Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review of 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Silly, pointless, a bit dull. The dialogue is hopeless, the characters uninteresting and poorly acted (were the cast moonlighting on this while they actually worked on something more substantial?), and the mildly interesting plot wasted through a series of missed moments. Only the sets, and the occasional set-piece reconstruction (mainly the jazz clubs and cabarets) are worth looking at. I fell asleep a few times but didn't seem to miss much. Just worth noticing how awful Colin Firth is in this, compared to how good he is in 'Before I go to sleep'. Is it that he didn't care, or are actors just as good as the script and the direction?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review of "Pride"

A lovely, uplifting film. Well, it was for me, anyway. These days (not in the period it depicts) I have friends with a wider range of views, and I'm sure some of them won't find its depiction of working-class solidarity in the face of state repression, prejudice and corporate-sponsored asset stripping that uplifting. For me, though, this was beautiful, poignant, funny, and very enjoyable. I was involved in a miners' support group in North London - well, all right, in Hampstead and Highgate Labour Party - and I felt a little flicker of pride in my own small connection with this.

Super acting from all your favourite British actors, especially Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, and they must have had so much fun with the art direction.

I wasn't expecting a surprise ending - after all, we all know that the miners lost. But I really didn't know about the NUM contingent at the front of the Gay Pride march in 1985. A big lump in my throat for that, and actual tears for the singing in the working men's club.

A small final observation, which is hinted at near the end, when the Pride organisers try to take banners with political slogans out of the 1985 march; support for gay rights is now pretty mainstream,  and 'apolitical', whereas in the 1980s the Tories thought that opposition to gays was a vote-winner; Section 28 of the Local Government Act prohibiting the 'promotion' of homosexuality wasn't introduced until 1988, three years after the film's setting. On the other hand, solidarity with workers on strike now feels like it belongs to the age of chivalry. The two movements passed each other along the way, and this film captures that moment.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Review of 'Before I Go to Sleep'

Easily the scariest film I have seen in a while - well, I don't really do scary. This is a tense psychological thriller about a woman with a memory disorder who can't remember anything that has happened to her since her early twenties, and wakes up every morning with all subsequent memories (including those of the previous day) wiped clean. Anything else I say will be a plot spoiler, but I can say that the acting is great (I don't know if emotions really look like what Nicole Kidman performs, but there is no doubt that she is communicating them powerfully), the casting superb (you'll know what I mean when you've seen it), and the plot full of twists that I didn't see coming. Woke up in the night thinking about it.

Review of 'Snowpiercer'

An interesting science fiction film with a strong political message, about inequality, hierarchy, resistance - and also a warning about geo-engineering as a solution to climate change as part of the backstory. Some good actors (especially Tilda Swinton channelling the ghost of Thora Hird, and John Hurt doing a sort of Alex Guiness), great art design, a slightly plodding script (did the dialogue have to be so lacklustre).

And really very violent - lots of blood and gore, horrible fight scenes that go on and on. I don't mind a bit of gore in a film, but this really felt over the top and surely means that fewer people will see it. Actually, to the best of my knowledge no-one has watched it after it was 'released' in 2013 - has it ever been shown in cinemas anywhere?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Time to hang up that skull and crossbones flag...?

Here’s a funny thing. A few years ago, in a piece for Ovum about the long-term future of telecoms and all that, I segmented the consumer market into three categories: Digital Citizens, the mainstream consumers of media content and applications; Digital Metics, those largely excluded from the digital world by reason of poverty, transience, lack of skills, or even choice; and Digital Outlaws, who rejected the mainstream world for a DIY ethic and an interest in encryption, open source, free content, and so on.

I thought of myself as belonging in the latter category, even though I’m not that much of a hacker. I used Linux (Ubuntu) on my personal laptop. I used a G-Box for my smart TV. I got my content through BitTorrent kind of on principle. I even used an alternative version of Android on my Samsung smartphone.

In the space of about a week I’ve ended up turning my back on almost all that. My new laptop, an Asus X550C, won’t play nicely with Ubuntu (it won’t recognise the wireless connection, or even install properly). We despaired of the G-Box, which needed to be rebooted almost every time we used it, and made it fiendishly difficult to add a new channel ever, and we bought a Chromecast instead, which has turned out to be rather brilliant and really simple to use. Ruth got herself a Netflix subscription. And I got a new Samsung phone, and I can’t face going through the tortuous process of installing Cyanogenmod on it when it’s working quite well at the moment and I can’t think what the actual benefits would be.


Right now I don’t think this is a permanent change of mindset, but perhaps the mindset will follow where the behaviour has led. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review of 'Hannah Arendt'

Watching this film reminded me of all the things that I liked, and hated, about reading 'Eichmann in Jerusalem'. The film focuses on the critical response, especially by New York Jews and Israelis, to the book; Arendt has to deal with the fact that lots of people, including some of her close friends, hated the book and thought that she was making excuses for Eichmann.

In that regard, the point she was making seems itself to be a bit banal nowadays. We understand that racism does not require that individual racists hate with a passion; we can conceive of a system that is racist without the necessity for personal hatred. Arendt made the same point about Eichmann; he wasn't a personal anti-semite. Lots of people seem to have misinterpreted this, some of them wilfully.

We also see her making the point about the complicity of some Jewish leaders in helping to facilitate the organisation of the holocaust. In the film this is presented as a personal accusation that she has made; in reality it was observation of what happened at the trial. The book makes unhappy reading for those that want the story of the Holocaust to be a straightforward morality play with evil persecutors and wholly innocent victims. But the historical facts and not really in dispute, only how they should be thought about.

Indeed, much of this had already been raised by the 1954 Kastner trial, which revealed how much Jewish leaders, including Zionist leaders, had been compromised by the decisions they made about who lived and who died. This is very uncomfortable reading for many (if not most) Jews, who would rather just not think about this. Part of the negative reaction to Arendt, and then to the various anti-Zionists writers like Jim Allen who brought this up as part of a critique of Zionism, is down to this.

Not all, mind; there is a degree of moral sadism in the way that anti-Zionists raise the issue in the wilful absence of an understanding of the context, as if the Jewish or Zionist leaders in question made these awful decisions in comfort. It is almost as if they want to make some sort of equivalence between the responsibility of the Jewish leaders and the responsibility of the Nazis.

Arendt, to her credit, never did that, and the film makes this point very eloquently, not least in the set-piece lecture at the university, where a young female student asks her about this. But what is doesn't do is to highlight the tone of the book, especially the earlier parts, where Arendt writes with distaste about the histrionics of the trial; why are the Israelis allowing witnesses to testify about their experiences of the Holocaust when this can have no bearing on the guilt or innocence of Eichmann as an individual? That bit of the book really stank for me, and the film doesn't seem to notice that it happened.

The film does convey that Arendt was part of a small elite of very German Jews, who felt themselves to be part of the great sweep of German culture. It doesn't explain that most Jews in the West, and in Israel, are not part of that small band.

Review of 'Boyhood'

A nice-ish coming of age sort of film...a bit shapeless, and sort of long, really, like real life. The remarkable thing is that the film-makers managed to get the actors, including the main actor (the eponymous boy) to stay with the project while the character aged from 8 to 18. Other than that nothing very exciting happens; the mom gets divorced a few times, moves in with some crap men and then moves out again, the boy does some alcohol and some weed. Normal life. Watchable, but not especially moving; it ends with the boy just going off to college and meeting his room-mate and next girlfriend.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review of 'The Wind Rises'

A film that is both beautiful and a bit vacuous, like the central character – the real-life aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who spent his life designing military aircraft even though, at least in the film, he is portrayed as unenthusiastic about the military aspects of aviation. But this doesn't translate into much of a conflict; he just gets on with it, though he is occasionally wistful about making weapons of mass destruction.

It's a pleasure to look at, and to listen to – I really enjoyed the music. It's Miyazaki's last film, apparently, and is also based on a manga book that he created on the same subject. But it is a bit flat emotionally, and even a bit boring sometimes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review of "Rushmore"


This is obviously pulling out all the stops in an effort to be 'quirky', and not quite achieving it. Well, it's Wes Anderson, that's what he is for.

The central character, the 15-year old Max Fisher, is a remarkable young man with many extraordinary and frankly implausible achievements; but he is also a fantasist with a propensity to self-delusion (not least in the belief that he has a romantic relationship with a young female teacher at the school); and the film doesn't want to decide how much it is about the self-delusion and how much about the remarkable achievements. The fact that the first sequence, about young Max solving a very difficult problem in geometry, is quickly shown to be a fantasy/dream, but that almost none of the other equally implausible things in the film are meant to be taken as fantasy, adds to the confusion. 

Incidentally, there is almost no politics in the film at all, and nothing about revolution, despite the poster. This looks like a poster for the subsequent and slightly better film 'The Trotsky', which does feature a high-school kid who believes himself to be a revolutionary, and is also quirky but...well, you know.

It's got good actors and characters, an interesting scenario, but the premise doesn't quite work.